A good work conference has plenty to offer – knowledge, networking, food, a happy hour – that could leave you satisfied with the event. With a little planning, however, you can enjoy an even more worthwhile and fulfilling experience beyond what is advertised on the website.
How we maximized our work conference
I recently traveled with our Director of IT Adam Heusdens and Account Executive Jake Jones to Austin, TX for SpiceWorld, “The most happenin’ tech conference around!” Our third year attending, it was our most enriching experience because we tried some new things. Here are eight things we did to make the most of our work conference.
1. Plan ahead
Let’s lay some ground rules first. You’re there to learn, so make sure you’re prepped to take it all in. Check out the agenda ahead of time and choose which sessions you want to attend. Read the descriptions and speaker bios to get the best idea of what you’ll be learning. Don’t forget to pack a notebook to take notes.
A full night’s sleep before the work conference kicks off is a good idea, since you will probably be staying out late during the event. Consuming a caffeinated drink during the morning session may be necessary too!
Limit yourself from checking in at work. Set your out of office before you leave and assign a point person to help out in your absence. You will take more in if you can focus on what the conference has to offer and not what is happening at work.
2. Meet new people
If a list of attendees is available before the event, spend time considering who you might want to meet or talk with once you are there. If you can, schedule meetings beforehand with some people you want to be sure not to miss.
You will never know who you might meet or where that could lead you if you don’t take advantage of the networking opportunities. Invite yourself to a table at lunch, talk to a speaker after a session or take a selfie with a vendor. Don’t forget your business cards so you are ready to exchange them and connect with people after the event.
3. Go to the after party, and the after, after party
This is one of the best ways to meet new people. Sleeping is for the flight home (and you’ll have caffeine available for you tomorrow morning). You can unwind after a full day of cramming knowledge in your brain and talk with people in a relaxed environment.
Look for any unofficial events, before and during the conference. The SpiceBuddy program at SpiceWorld led us to new areas and experiences in the city where we connected with other attendees in a casual atmosphere.
4. Visit a customer
Find out if there is anyone in the city or on the way you’d like to connect with. A great way to grow your work relationships is by meeting face-to-face. Customers always remember people who make the effort to come meet them. Be sure to show respect for their time by scheduling this in advance.
Sweeten the deal by treating them to lunch or dinner. Ask to take a tour of their workplace to learn more about their company’s history and daily operations. Get a photo together so that you will both remember the great time you had.
If this customer has a great story to tell about their experience working with you, ask them if you can record a case study while you’re visiting, like we did with Pacific Summit Energy during our first SpiceWorld trip. Opportunities like these are not that hard to add to your itinerary and amplify the benefits of the trip.
5. Create your own unofficial event
If you know there will be some down time during the conference, coordinate and even sponsor an event or activity for people you want to connect with and let them bring a guest. Often the best time to do this is the day or night before the conference begins since everyone will be anticipating it and come in a great mood.
At SpiceWorld, we invited guests to a Packers vs. Cowboys happy hour the Sunday before the conference kicked off. We had a fantastic turnout and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We met new people and started the conference with new friends.
6. Make time for exploring
If you’re traveling for your work conference, what’s wrong with making it feel a little like vacation? You’ve already made the trip, so spend some time exploring your surroundings outside of the conference walls – even if it’s somewhere you’ve been before.
I spent one afternoon in Austin renting a bike to visit Hope Outdoor Gallery and some local breweries. Adam and I also watched one of our favorite podcasts (Stuff You Should Know) live at the Paramount Theatre. These experiences not only enhanced our trip, but created some down time to clear our heads in between conference activities.
7. Try some local grub
This one might be a no-brainer for you, but it’s worth noting just in case. It’s great when meals are included in your conference ticket, but skip out on one or two to try a local favorite. I’d be embarrassed to go to Austin without trying any Tex-Mex or BBQ!
Ask a local for a recommendation or look online for places with good reviews. Don’t forget to leave a rating for fellow travelers coming after you.
8. Write a blog
Make the conference benefits last a little longer by writing an article about the experience that will position you as a thought leader or expert. There are plenty of story opportunities at any conference, including interviewing a speaker, polling attendees for their feedback, sharing key takeaways or explaining how to make the most of a work conference – see what I did there?
Come up with your idea before you go to the conference so you’re ready to gather data and photos when you get there. Share the article with your blog subscribers and new friends you met at the conference to continue building those relationships. (And make sure you get them in your photos.)
Are you ready for your next work conference yet?
By now I hope you’re checking your calendar and getting excited for your next chance to try out these ideas. There are a lot of ways to maximize your experience, and they all start with an open mind. Some things require planning and foresight, but don’t forget that bad planning is the mother of all adventure. Happy trails!
How do you make the most out of a conference? Share some tips or experiences!